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16 May 2021 | Randy Kemner

The Unique Virtues of Dry Roses with Summer Fare

Let's talk about dry rosé, a subject that, remarkably after 20 years of increased popularity, still leaves many people feeling uneasy.  I'm not talking about that lowly, scorned pink wine that brings back uncomfortable memories of misspent youth, nor just any salmon colored wine with the name rose on its label, some with alcohols way too high to be refreshing.

I'm talking about the most popular wine served in the summertime in French bistros, a wine that when served chilled, beats back the summer heat, and comes alive with the lighter fare the French turn to when the temperature outside soars. 

Look at it.  Shimmering in the clear summer sunlight, it radiates as many stunning shades of pink as there are wines.  And the classic rosés favored on the French Riviera, the Bandols, Cassis and the Cotes de Provence, are light, peppery and particularly well-suited for summer living. 

Don't think for a minute that rosé consumption is confined to the Cote d'Azur.  It's also big in the bistros of Paris, where delicious, full-bodied rosés from the Loire Valley's Sancerre and Chinon are favorites, along with the many fine rosés that come from the Languedoc and the Rhone Valley.  We've discovered delicious and affordable rosés from Sicily, Spain, Italy and Greece.  All of these wines are created to grace the summer table, glorious with al fresco dining, and frankly, outperform almost all other red wines, including Cabernet and Pinot Noir, with just about everything you eat this time of year.

Those of you who don't care about wine and food—the wine-as-cocktail folks—should take a fresh look at dry rosés.  You may or may never acquire a taste for them as cocktails, but try drinking one with a provencale feast like our good friend Jack McLaughlin created for us a generation ago, and it just may open up a whole new world of wine appreciation for you. 

It was in his backyard patio one sunny Sunday afternoon, a crisp tablecloth on the long table under the patio cover, fresh flowers from the garden, elegant, yet casual.  There were three generation of McLaughlins there, passing the platters, sharing as family ritual.  A miraculous condiment called aioli that, at Jack's direction, we slathered on our fish, vegetables and roasted potatoes, and what seemed like gallons of dry rosés from the south of France that not only refreshed us on a warm June afternoon, but tied the whole meal together. 

That day, I learned that simple wine and simple food could produce profound results at the table, and by surrounding oneself with friends and family, you could make the whole wonderful experience even that more meaningful.

I first heard of aioli while reading Kermit Lynch's remarkable and influential book, Adventures on the Wine Route.  He was writing about the famed Bandol estate Domaine Tempier, the Peyraud family—the late father Lucien, his legendary wife Lulu (who died at 102 years old in October 2020) and two of their sons, Francois and Jean-Marie—and this winemaking family's devotion to great Provencale cooking:

One evening I dined outdoors with a dozen Peyrauds.  It was almost nine o-clock, but the sky was still radiant, with a touch of fiery amber.  Around a table crowded with heaping platters of boiled red beets, carrots, cauliflower, artichokes, fennel bulbs, baked sweet potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, sole filets wrapped around dill blossoms, and a heady octopus stew, the piece de resistance was passed without cease despite its nearly impossible weight:  a huge marble mortar filled with an aioli that François had worked up by hand with a wooden pestle.  Aioli is Provence's garlic mayonnaise.  Some poor souls find it indigestible; others feel their blood stir with excitement as they wolf it down.  This aioli had an entire head of garlic in it, two egg yolks, a pinch of salt, and a liter of Domaine Tempier's own olive oil.

     Catherine, Jean-Marie's wife, coughed and sucked in air to cool off her mouth.

     "It's not too strong, is it?" asked Lucien, reaching again for the mortar.  "You think there's too much garlic?"

     "No, no, I have a little cold," Catherine replied.

     "An aioli is good for colds," Lucien said, and plopped another heaping spoonful onto her plate.

In one of the late food writer Richard Olney's final books, Lulu's Provencale Table, he profiled Lulu Peyraud and her culinary lifestyle, and he mentioned Lulu serving her famous aioli:

"The traditional meal, or Grand Aioli, at the Peyraud table, is a mad, joyous circus.  Lulu rarely prepares a Grand Aioli for fewer than 15 or 20 people, and there are always three mortars of aioli sauce at table:  one, relatively mild, for les estrangers (Parisians, Americans, etc.); one, generously dosed with garlic, for the Provencaux; and one, overpowering, for Lucien, who likes a "bite" in his aioli (the Parisians and the Americans invariably end up wiping Lucien's mortar clean).  As with the bouillabaisse, vin rosé is always present, but it is cool, young red that flows most freely."


Provence, the sunny section of France's southeast, reminds many southern Californians of home, particularly the striking similarity of the coastlines near Laguna Beach and the French Riviera.  The Provencaux often dine outdoors on warm summer days, as we do, but instead of hamburgers and hot dogs and 2 liter plastic bottles of Coca Cola, they grill fish, lamb and vegetables fresh from the farmer's market and serve chilled dry rose.


If you experience the latter, don't forget the garlicky aioli sauce.  It will reveal fruit and complexity in your modest South-of-France rose wines you never imagined was there.

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